The New York Times recently ran a story about the migration of celebrity chefs from the city to the Hudson Valley, evidently lured here by our farms. It’s been going on for years now, of course, and I feel obliged to mention that chefs using “earthy” local produce is not an idea introduced last year by newcomers from the metropolis. Still, the influx of famous chefs is raising the bar on the foodie scene, and while many of them alight in Westchester, some are drifting as far upriver as Hudson. The latest arrival in that increasingly hip enclave is Zakary Pelaccio of Fatty Crab and Fatty ’Cue fame, who opened Fish & Game in a onetime blacksmith’s shop in the spring.
Rather than continue in the spirit of his trendy city spots, where the cuisine was Malaysian, Pelaccio in his ambitious rural incarnation has gone seriously locavore, offering a nightly tasting menu using food that’s almost all produced nearby. Butchering takes place in-house, and nothing goes to waste. Jori Jayne Emde, Pelaccio’s wife and co-chef, is the “alchemist” creating the vinegars, pickles, relishes, essences, and distillations that enhance the main ingredients or find their way into interesting drinks.
Architect Michael Davis, who — like Pelaccio and Emde — has a place in Columbia County, designed the interior of the handsome building, which has been gutted and enlarged. It’s now a well-staged mix of red flocked wallpaper, Prussian blue wainscot, beamed ceilings, cool light fixtures, and two big fireplaces built with salvaged bricks, one of them containing a rotisserie. A stuffed boar’s head on the wall reminds everyone of the promise of game in season. In the bar/lounge, cushy leather sofas are so inviting that a couple was canoodling there when we arrived on a hot night.
At left: A view of the kitchen from the main dining room; above, house-cured lamb prosciutto with sweet-and-sour shiro plums and anise hyssop leaf
We were greeted by a cute young guy wearing a pork pie hat. When I casually remarked that it was cool inside, he promptly produced a box of shawls, and demonstrated to my husband how one could be worn like a scarf, if you happen to be a chilly, non-cross-dressing guy. (It was not needed.) We sat at the communal table that anchors the small dining room, where we could see into the kitchen. Linen napkins in metal rings, heavy silverware (a fresh set for each course, it turned out), and glassware are all of high quality.
You can get drinks and a small selection of a la carte fare in the bar or on the brick patio outside. But in the dining room, Pelaccio serves a seven- or eight-course nightly tasting menu for $68. “Limit of one dietary restriction per customer” it says in tiny type at the bottom of the menu. Wine pairings cost an additional $75. The mostly European wine list is also on the pricey side, but there are a few offerings by the glass.
The experience (and that’s what it is) began with a wonderful, chewy sourdough bread with sweet butter that we enjoyed as we waited for the action to start. The back of the menu lists the “Farms and Artisans” who provide the ingredients for each night’s dinner (26 of them on the day we went). The menu itself, a model of simplicity, names the main ingredient of each course — Potato, Eggplant, Pork — with back-up ingredients that don’t give much of a clue about preparation either. “Potato,” for example, was subtitled “hollandaise, caviar.” Pelaccio is evidently both serious about what he’s doing, and having fun dispensing surprises.
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Pig head torchon with pork jus, sunflower seeds, and sprouts
Here’s a brief recap of that night’s tastes:
Cucumber: A couple of slices each of Boothby Blonde and Suhyo Long — both sweet, mild heirloom cucumbers — were dressed in a vinegar so subtle it was barely discernible. But Pelaccio made a substitution, as he’s known to do, adding a thin-sliced, heavenly ham instead of the cheese mentioned on the menu. Good move.
Scallop: One perfect scallop, with a tissue of tomato perched on top, came with its roe, an orange-pink crescent that has the texture of sweetbreads and a mild, scallop flavor. New to us, and interesting.
Clam: Actually three clams, this was an intensely flavored winner. In 30 years, I’ve never seen my husband eat a clam; these had him licking his lips. They were served with a creamy, toothy rice grown in Vermont, where rice paddies are surely rare. The garnish was another rarity: bright green sprigs of agretti, a succulent that looks something like dill. In this context, its slightly salty quality made me think of seaweed. Fabulous.
Eggplant: A delicious flatbread, hot from the wood-burning oven, served as a lid on a shallow bowl containing a thin slice of tiny eggplant that sat half atop an eggplant-shaped smear of silky eggplant puree. A teardrop-shaped blob of yogurt sat to one side. It was a witty presentation, and so good we’d have liked another one.
Potato: Two little spuds, smaller than ping-pong balls, had that just-dug-up earthiness, brought forward by a lovely light hollandaise. One of them was topped with a small dollop of Siberian sturgeon caviar, farmed in Maine, our server told us, and then trotted back to correct herself: farmed in Florida.
Chef and owner Zakary Pelaccio
Pork: A fairly generous portion, and with the Old World flavor that factory-farmed pork never has. Two radicchio leaves, one raw and one lightly grilled, were dressed with a sour-grape sauce made from the grapes in Pelaccio’s own garden, our server took pains to explain. Excellent.
Plum: We were presented with chopsticks for this course — slivers of delicately pickled plum in a dressing of shiso, chili, and hyssop, whose anise flavor I didn’t care for. My husband was happy to polish off my Plum as soon as he had finished his own.
Chilled Cream: A finger-sized wedge of frozen cream, drizzled with honey and accompanied by a sliver of roasted plum, served as a final tantalizing taste.
The staff is well-trained and earnest. Acolytes bearing pitchers of sparkling and still water were constantly circulating to refill glasses, and you feel well looked-after. One quibble is the length of time between courses; we were there almost three hours. It’s nice to have the chance to savor, but too long a wait and the wow starts to wear off.
Pelaccio has said in the past that his aim is to create memorable meals. Fish & Game is not a place you pop into for a bite. But for foodies with time and money who are looking for a night out they won’t forget, it fits the bill. Welcome Zak!
Fish & Game
Dinner Thurs.-Sun., breakfast Sat.-Sun.
13 South 3rd St., Hudson. 518-822-1500; fishandgamehudson.com